Ford, Mercedes And Nissan Ally On Hydrogen Cars


Hydrogen fuel cells always seems to be just beyond the reach of even the world’s largest companies, which can really mean only one thing; car companies need to pool their resources to make hydrogen cars an affordable and practical reality. No wonder Ford, Mercedes, and Nissan have signed a technology pact to produce a car that emits nothing but water by 2017

If you ask automakers what they think is the real future of alternative fuel vehicles, most will say the same thing; hydrogen. Because it is so plentiful and emits only water, cars powered by hydrogen combine quiet and clean EV technology with the ease and convenience of filling something similar conventional combustion engines.

The problem is that this technology is proving increasingly costly to develop, and led Mercedes to delaying deployment of a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by another three years, though they have working models on the road now. Hyundai and Toyota have both pledged to start selling hydrogen cars by 2015 or 2016, and Honda will already lease you a FCX Clarity hydrogen car…if you live in California. Toyota and BMW have announced a development deal to produce hydrogen cars, and the Mercedes-Nissan-Ford deal was no doubt in the works for some time too.

The trio of automakers representing arguably the most successful car-making countries will split development costs in the hopes of deploying hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2017. The deal aims to create a hydrogen fuel drivetrain, or “stack” that can be used in three very different vehicles, one sold by each member of the alliance.

The three automakers will share decades of research, as well as try to send a message to politicians and parts makers about what might be called the automotive end-game; clean, affordable, and convenient transportation. But will this alliance finally pan out, or will the goal posts for hydrogen cars move yet again?



About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • I am very unsure about the benefits of hydrogen cars –

    Firstly the majority of hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas which involves similar emissions to using liquid petroleum gas. If you are going to use natural gas to produce hydrogen, then you might as well use LPG which is easier to handle than hydrogen and if you intend to use a fuel cell, then reform on board or use a methane fuel cell.

    If you use electrolysis to generate hydrogen from wind or sun, then cycle efficiency becomes a big problem. Wind to wheel efficiency of electrolysis, (producing hydrogen) distribution – getting it to the vehicle, compression – getting it into the fuel tank and use in a fuel cell is unlikely to exceed 40%. (slightly higher if you can use the heat given off during electrolysis). This compares very badly to batteries which are nearer to 90% DC/DC efficiency or 85% AC/DC efficiency. Pure electric battery powered cars will therefore travel around twice as far on a given amount of electricity.

    What about range? A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is likely to have similar range to a battery vehicle and requires expensive tanks and re-fuelling infrastructure. Hydrogen is hard to store at high density so the fuel tank is much larger than a conventional tank.

    What about durability? – currently fuel cells have limited durability and generally do not like to be ramped up and down too much (they tend to crack as a result of repeated thermal cycling) – as a result they need to be used in conjunction with batteries and or ultra-capacitors.

    Personally, I think the current range anxiety and battery cost considerations of batteries will be overcome in the next few years (probably involving solid phase sodium or potassium ion batteries) leaving hydrogen as a more expensive less efficient option for electric transport.

    • T Adkins

      You should be questioning the hydrogen car. I would more wonder about the companies that are in the act of going for hydrogen as the distraction from not improving or working with what we have. The biggest hurdle with hydrogen fuel cell cars is the platinum costs. Then you have hydrogen storage.

      Just feel like some companies are making a big show of chasing the hydrogen car while avoiding other alternatives.

      • Hydrogen Fuel Cells are using less and less platinum, so though that is an issue, I don’t think it is the biggest one. Efficiency, or lack there of, is horrible for HFC vehicles. It makes a Ford Fusion Hybrid look great by comparison when you look at the inefficiency of the process of harvesting hydrogen from natural gas or water, whether you use wind or not. The continuous loss of hydrogen from the tanks is an issue, as is the difficulty of building a hydrogen re-fuelling infrastructure compared to the relative ubiquity of electricity for BEV’s. Finally, even the most optimistic predictions for HFC manufacturing cost makes it look like it will cost substantially more than a hybrid ICE or even an EREV, and in the longer term (6 or 7 years) even full utility (200+ mile AER with 80% recharge within 30 minutes) BEV’s will be cheaper.
        It definitely looks like we are going to follow the Prius for the next couple years as Hybrids like the FFH and the Honda Accord Hybrid sales grow. Then I think EREV’s will take off for 4 or 5 years as a bridge to full utility BEV’s.
        Interesting days.

        • T Adkins

          With different articles saying that platinum is 1/5-1/3 of the cost of the fuel cell it is a problem, and the price for the metal is still on the rise and out pacing the percent of lower use in the cells. Cost is a huge hurdle for any alternative to replace the ICE car.

          But after the cost of the car, I will not argue the cost or poor efficiency of the hydrogen refueling cycle as of now they are very poor and you and Gary cover that quite well.

          But it still looks like some companies are just putting on the show and kicking the hydrogen can down the road until someone else comes up with a solution, that seems more and more to be not a hydrogen solution.

  • China takes a different tack and will produce Methanol, even methane fuels from H2, CO2 in the air and massive thorium heat source as soon as possible. They have a proven process, according to U tube on thorium reactors. Perhaps this step does not require precious metals Pt, Pd, Au etc.?

    • T Adkins

      with the temperatures they can reach with that system they maybe able to ween themselves off of foreign oil by converting coal into fuel, while they ramp up into the methanol fuel cell stuff.

  • At 77 years old and building experimental engines since I was 14, it is funny to see the auto companies “play” like they will breach “BIG OIL”, WHEN THEY WILL NOT!

    Propane, natural gas, methanol, ethanol, electric, fuel cell, compressed air, hydrogen from water, etc., etc., etc……….. but none ever stayed in the game and into production.

    Even with global warming, terrorists attacking the well, pipelines, shipping tankers, and refineries – “BIG OIL” will not let the USA get off gasoline. All you see is big tax based grant money being used by the big corporations to lockup patents and technologies so independent engine builders cannot get started. This battle is well documented since Henry Ford fought with John D. Rockefeller in the US Congress at the turn of the 20th Century.

    I have built many of these alternative engines over time and found success technically. I was on the design team for the new v-8 engine series from International Harvester in 1955. I hold the patents for two water fueled engines (hydrogen from water on demand). One was funded by NASA and is for powering construction equipment in space. The other was funded by me.

    I left my position at the Rockwell Corporation in 1973 at the request of the State Legislature to find a way to operate vehicles without gasoline because the oil shortage of 1973 was so threatening to the California economy. It is now 40 years later and we have NO production vehicles running in our fleets without gasoline and diesel.

    Hundreds of Millions of dollars have been spent by the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board; and the US government has spent Billions on these alternative over 50 years – where is the product. Over a Trillion dollars has been given to the oil and auto industries to develop these alternative vehicles and they only produce a few vehicles and shift to another set of ideas supported by more tax dollars. No production!

    In 2013, this year, the terrorist activities will go to a new high and refineries and pipeline and tankers at sea will cause a serious disruption in oil for America. Obama has had his giant team of Phd’s running the US Department of Energy under Dr Chu with a multi Billion dollar budget for 4 years now, with no down-select for a single alternative choice to oil based fuels.

    There is no GOD or good in the presence of evil like “BIG OIL”! They just buy the vote to have things their way, and we the wage slave consumers just pay their price at their pump..

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  • “Had the $4 Trillions+ spent on Iraq, been spent even only on conventional Solar/Thermal development of South Western U.S.A. – Today, Americans would receive a huge ROI ( “Return On Investment”) in cheap electricity, in place of horrendous tax rates to service unpayable war debt to China. Americans would be gainfully working, using this renewable, perpetual, eternal, clean, radiation free, radioactive waste free, domestic, electricity source – to compete in world markets with well priced products, to irrigate dry lands, to heat and cool homes, and much less foreign oil would have be imported, fewer “Parasite Nations” supported. This is the lost “opportunity cost” for having Saddam’s scrotum on the Bushes mantlepiece? Shiite eh!”
    P.S., (Oil, gas, wells do go dry, not really sourced from an eternal pipe up &Allah’s-ass, as some believe – But, the Sun never stops shining, Wind blows forever)
    China makes liquid fuel from the very air we breath and heat from thorium reactors.This is a proven working process.
    Three moving part electric power trains and renewable (University of Alberta and hemp-Lotus) carbon sequestering vehicle bodies are also possible, proven technologies – just not for Americans, not really free people at all?

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